Skip to content

The Christian Neurosis by Pierre Solignac

March 2, 2017

tcnMaybe it’s a tribute to this author that my copy if falling to pieces. I first read it in1983, reread if three years later and come back to it time and time again.

It’s meant to disturb. Pierre Solignac is a Roman Catholic a psychiatrist and brings both experiences to bear in his writing, especially in his many case histories of priests, religious and ‘involved laity’.

The neurosis and psychosomatic illnesses which he recounts have all been expressed in people who are Roman Catholic, in their upbringing and way of life.

It might be thought that Vatican 2 marked the end of rule-bound religion keeping people in dependent infancy. Not so.

Clergy are amongst the most infantile – the blind leading the blind. Had the author known about the child abuse scandals of recent years, I’m sure he would have written much more in this book.

The confession is, all too often, a revolving door where people come ton get right with the law rather than to grow in holiness and self-knowledge and understanding.

The author seems to agree with the traditional view that homosexuality is the result a blockage in development.

Quotations:

Christian education is in perpetual conflict with the message of the gospel, and it is based on a serious contradiction. At a very early stage the child to whom one speaks of love and giving himself is subjected to a series of prohibitions and taboos, and told that if he goes wrong he puts himself in a state of sin. He is prevented from discovering pleasure and joy. All pleasure is sin. Sexual pleasure is clearly the prime sin…

“The church continues to use guilt, sin and anxiety as the basis of its education. It still continues to confront the rapid development of social morality with a policy of prohibitions. It reacts slowly and cautiously and always tries to align itself, too late, with the majority opinion.”

A young man who sought help from him was infected by the Christian neurosis: “… in which  this young man found it impossible to regard himself as an independent person, all of a piece, with his own characteristics. He had learnt a code which he was not to transgress, and his neurotic attitude was particularly marked. He had no confidence in himself and no system of personal values. He was entirely dependent on what other people thought of him. Shut in by his anxiety and his aggression, he went round in a circle, incapable of reflecting on himself, incapable of accepting himself, much less of loving himself.”

The church continues to use guilt, sin and anxiety as the basis of its education. It still continues to confront the rapid development of social morality with a policy of prohibitions. It reacts slowly and cautiously and always tries to align itself, too late, with the majority opinion.

Another characteristic of the Christian neurosis is the way in which this young man found it impossible to regard himself as an independent person, all of a piece, with his own characteristics. He had learnt a code which he was not to transgress, and his neurotic attitude was particularly marked. He had no confidence in himself and no system of personal values. He was entirely dependent on what other people thought of him.

My vicar received anonymous letters. It made me furious. Let me make it quite clear: we didn’t have sexual intercourse until we were married. The attitude of the Christian community determined my choice. There again I felt oppressed.’

‘Oppressed by what?’ `By  Christians. The priest is an asexual being. That reassures all these good middle-class men and women who are ashamed of their sex, while thinking about it too much. One of the worst faults of the church is having introduced a guilt-complex about sex.

I retained my vocation to be at everyone’s disposal, to the availability of the priest. I would like to have continued to work with young people. As a family man, working as a laboratory assistant, that’s difficult.’

`Do you regret your marriage?’

`Not really. I regret my priestly profession. My only obsession now is that of making both ends meet. Francoise will have to find a job. I wish that could have been avoided when the children are so small. Next year I’ve asked for a post as a teacher, and I hope to become qualified to teach literature. It’s going to be hard, but I must find some way out.’

`Do you feel depressed?’

`More than ever, and in addition, I begrudge having given way to the pressure of an infantile Christian community.’

I really do have the impression of giving them absolution; my prescription takes the place of the three Hail Marys or three Our f Fathers which a parish priest would give them. I have the impression of being just like the priests: conscientious and incompetent. Very often they, too, give absolution, knowing that the real problem isn’t there.

Last Easter I went to confession: the priest was even quicker than the general practitioner. Each confession lasted two or three minutes, all in all. He got through about twenty patients, sorry, twenty sinners, an hour. With me he broke all records: I hardly had time to get down on my knees, and he gave me the absolution before I had time to speak. He must have been exhausted and perhaps disgusted. This confession reminded me of some surgeries in the winter when one got through twenty patients with influenza in an hour. No need to listen to them; all the patients had the same thing. I often recall this priest, who said to me, “They tell me all the same rubbish.” ‘

I couldn’t help bursting out laughing, because this story reminded me of a patient who had come away from his doctor holding up his trousers: he hadn’t had time to do up his braces.

The more I reflect, the more I think that doctors and priests have the same lack of psychological training. The former cope with problems by prescriptions, the latter by absolutions. In both cases the aim is the same: reassurance.

Confession has its limitations at the causal it does not cure the dental decay. Confession is enough for a toothache, minor neuralgia which is not caused by any lesion. your comparison interesting: it is aspirin for guilt, but when something more important; it does not deal with it in depth. to be pardoned if one is truly contrite, but it is not to repent if one is to be capable of changing profoundly, to understand the reason for one’s attitudes.’

The well-oiled stereotypes of neurosis!’

What do you mean?’

that an education based on sin produces in those who it stereotyped attitudes which always bring them back to the same problems.

‘You must do your conjugal duty.’ This injunction had been accompanied by one of those stereotype discourses that you often hear in traditional confessions: ‘Think of the sufferings of Christ on the cross, think of the Virgin Mary, and so on. God understands and Iknows our sufferings; his love is immense and he pardons everything. Pray. You must recite three Our Fathers and two Hail Marys.’ Unfortunately, prayer has never cured frigidity. Psychological consultation allowed the patient to discover the reason for her behaviour: a profound disgust of sexuality. As she said to me one day, ‘It’s dirty; sperm disgusts me. I cannot bear my husband caressing my clitoris. I have the impression of committing a sin against purity.’

`Basically, you refuse to play.’

`Yes.’

‘Why?’

`I’ve always thought that the sexual act was necessary for the man, and that the woman had to submit without getting any pleasure from it.

`Who taught you such ideas?’

`It’s a conclusion that I- drew from my education. The sisters always told us to mistrust men, because all they were after was to take advantage of women. I’ve kept the idea that the sexual act should be only for procreation. No one ever told me that pleasure and joy should be associated with it.’

`Do you feel pleasure when your husband caresses you?’

`None at all. I just long for it to be over and for him to get his relief.’

it is difficult to defend truth and justice in the framework of the structured religious institution, hierarchical and integrated, which is no more than a replica of capitalist society. The good conscience is the way out for the legalist Christian, who thus finds a compromise between the theoretically unconditional law of love and the compromising situ­ations in which he is obliged to live.

In connection with abortion, it is interesting to recall the position defended in Les Etudes (a monthly review, founded in 1856, by the Fathers of the Company of Jesus). I quote: As for us, we think that there is room for a distinction between human life and humanized life, and that if the individual is truly humanized only in relationship to others, by and for others, if he receives his own being from others, then the relationship of recognition, as we have outlined it, is revelatory, if not the beginning of the fully human character of the being in gestation. In other words, just as the human being does not exist without a body, so, he is not humanized without this relationship to others.’

This text is remarkable; it ends up making the divine commandment `Thou shalt not kill’ and abortion compatible. This very Jesuitical distinction between human and humanized life is a means of reconciling abortion with a good Christian conscience.

In this text, we once again come across the legalistic obsession: how to obey the letter of the law and permit abortion officially

Christian morality today is far removed from the initial message, steeped in responsibility and freedom. Charles Maurras discovered the subversive character of the gospels and blamed the ecclesiastical apparatus for having damped down this ferment. The message of Christ attacks established morality. ‘The worker at the eleventh hour earns as much as those who have been working since the morning. The prodigal son who has wasted all his money on women is feted more than the oldest son who has remained faithful to his father. Christ even says, The prostitutes will go before you into the kingdom of heaven. “Scandal and folly,’ said St Paul of Christianity.

The regime of compulsory masses and courses of religious instruction has built up generations of anti-clerics or worse, clerics who confuse Christianity with a kind of morality, a kind of culture, a certain order. This confusion also has its good side. It prevents Christians from putting capitalist society to fire and the sword. That is one of the by no means negligible advantages of the good conscience.

Christian education is based essentially on anxiety and fear, lack of confidence in human nature, and scorn for the body, sexuality, and woman as a sexual being.

The aim of education is to allow children and adolescents to gain experience in security. From this perspective, lack of confidence in the educators is catastrophic, above all when the teacher projects his own fantasies which he has inherited from a pathogenic education.

it is striking to note that a number of priests have not come to the of their psychological development. Many of them have not yet their Oedipus complex

attitudes of this kind are based on the primordial difficulty for which Christian education is responsible: the difficulty of loving and accepting oneself. In this way it builds up fragile superego which are simply the internalization of a rigid and coercive external law

The mechanism of repression prevents integration makes it the principal victim of the blind opposition directed against the id. Repression appears as an part of the ego to escape:…….The superego is a superior unconsciously developed by the ego as a result of its experiences…….If the experience ends up with the formation of a superego with no coercive a harmonious synthesis of the personality will be possible.

There are many manifestations of the repressed libido; phobias which are irrational, obsessive, agonized fears, like agora­phobia, a morbid fear of open places; claustrophobia, fear of being shut up: ereuthophobia, fear of blushing, and so on. Then there are obsessional rites, characterized by a series of actions which the ; subject feels obliged to perform on pain of having a feeling of unbearable anxiety. Or, more simply, there can be various physical symptoms which can even become organic—stomach aches, gastritis, stomach ulcers, colic spasms, acute or chronic colitis, problems with the heart, the skin or with breathing, not to mention impotence and neurotic asthenia, giving evidence of a blockage of psychological energy.

Freud gave a very good definition of ‘normal behaviour’. What is considered correct is all attitudes of the ego which satisfy at the same time the demands of the id, the superego and reality. That happens when the ego succeeds in reconciling these different demands. We postulate that the ego sees itself obliged to satisfy at the same time both the demands of reality and those of the id and the superego, while preserving its own organization and autonomy. Only a relative or total weakening of the ego can prevent it from realizing its tasks and in so doing create possibilities for morbid states. If the two other authorities, the id and the superego, become too powerful, they succeed in disorganizing and modifying the ego in such a way that relations with reality are embarrassed, even abolished.

In fact, the ego only constructs and strengthens itself by measuring itself and adapting to the outside world, the resistance of which it experiences, and by achieving a successful resolution of the conflicts between what have been called the pleasure principle and the reality principle. This adjustment of the pleasure principle to the reality principle is absolutely necessary for our equilibrium. This equilib­rium depends on a ‘self-regulation’ which is incompatible with systematic repression and coercion. It is a permanent dialectic between impulse and reason, instinct and spirit, constraint and liberty

By the education which it dispenses, the church is partly respon­sible for the inhuman society in which we live. Through inhibition, repression and anxiety it creates adults who are tense, unsatisfied and guilt-ridden, incapable of loving and accepting themselves. Much anti-social behaviour or behaviour which is simply damaging to the good balance of the group is the result of a sexuality which is

-badly integrated or unbalanced. The bourgeois, in the pejorative sense of the term, dominated by his avaricious and conservative tendencies, may be regarded as a constipated person who has remained at the anal phase of autoeroticism. Anarchism may be said to be more or less bound up with sexual obsession. Some revolutionary phenomena might be collective phenomena of the repression of an unresolved Oedipus complex: society is a collective representation of the father, and in every revolution there is an unconscious desire to murder the father. . . One fact seems signifi­cant: during the revolution of May 1968, many people were confined for secondary mental troubles with feelings of guilt following the murder of the Father. – A repressive society is in fact simply the reflection of a repressive education, ending up in a profound inadequacy of the ego.

The harmful action of sin on physical health can in any case be slow and progressive. This is the case with bad habits, which can gradually change the constitution of he person who forms them, and as a result alter the normality of his or her physical reactions. More subtly still, wrongdoing, understood in the broadest sense of the term, as a transgression of the moral law which each person accepts and recognizes as necessary, brings in its train an inexorable sequel: a feeling of guilt.

It is certain that a virtuous life in the true sense of the term can be I a guarantee of psychological balance and health. I have often been Iable to note how openness to others and true love help towards a I psychosomatic balance. Unfortunately, virtue is not always under­stood in this sense. Often, it is a suit of armour. A certain number of Christians, ‘virtuous, prudent, upright and temperate’, spend their lives protecting themselves from sin and anguish, and turning in on themselves, to be preoccupied with their body and their spirit. They are very afraid of sickness and death, but do not show it. Apparently detached, under pressure from their family, they come simply to ask for a mechanical check-up.

This type of virtue is most conducive to psychosomatic illnesses, that is to say, those which are due to the retention of anxiety which is not expressed in the body.

  1. The explicit affirmation of the psychological and moral inwardness of the individual. ‘You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill,” but I say to you, “Whoever is angry against his brother will be brought before the court.” You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery,” but I say to you, “Whoever looks covetously on a woman has already committed dultery with her in his heart.” ‘
  2. The absolute affirmation of the other-worldliness of every human being in that God has created them in the divine image and likeness, and they are capable of becoming children of God. If by nature one understands the created world, then ‘man’, the natural or physical creature, is at the same time essentially a trans-natural or trans-physical creature. It is to this dimension of his being, which constitutes his ontological inwardness, that his psychological in­wardness, his moral responsibility and his freedom must ultimately be attributed. It is thanks to this that every human being is not only a nature but a person.
  3. The doctrine according to which the perfection of human relationships consists in the love of charity: ‘This is my command­ment: love one another, as I love you,’ that is to say, love with a love which, in contrast to Hellenistic eros, the love of desire and aspira­tion, is a generous gift of itself, an effusion of being in a state of plenitude towards the being in a state of need or privation. The goal of Christian education, then, should have been to make people free, responsible men, capable of knowing themselves and ready to arrive at this state of plenitude which allows the generousgift of oneself.

Material prosperity, the fact that we no longer need to struggle to survive physically, has shifted the problem. Now we have to struggle to survive psychologically, other than by renunciation and systematic repression.

‘My mother,’ he told me, ‘keeps saying incessantly that everything comes from God. Now I’m sure that we make our own lives and that we are on our own.’

I’ve quoted this comment to show the point at which a number of young people who might be called drop-outs are in fact looking for meaning in life, which is difficult to find in our technological, industrial, commercial, consumer society. They are in search of communication, of sharing in small groups; or techniques of initia­tion, methods based on the development of the inner life, of the mystical life, coming close to religious initiation. They are in search of a new form of life and spirituality.

Paternal power has been replaced by parental power: from now on, father and mother are on an equal footing.

At the beginning of the fourth millennium, men revolted against this matriarchy, and after a long and terrible struggle the woman was dethroned on earth/ and in heaven: the goddesses, mothers of fertility, were supplanted by solar male deities. Man became the head of the family. His children bore his name, and Property passed from the collective to the private stage. Sons, and especially the oldest son, became privileged heirs. This patriarchal order was established at every stage of society, from the peasant to the king. The king is the proprietor of the kingdom, and his subjects are his children: ‘My children,’ Louis XVI still said to the people of Paris when they came to Versailles to ask for bread. The patriarchal model was even established in the church: the bishop of Rome became ‘the Most Holy Father’, and Christians his ‘very dear children’.

The industrial revolution overturned agrarian society, so it is not surprising that the patriarchal system was put in question. But it is worth noting that this questioning began before the industrial revolution. Luther dealt it the first blow, when he rebelled against the authority of the ‘Holy Father’. Subsequently the Puritans, whose religious organization was very egalitarian, carried his attack fur­ther. Not only was the authority of the Pope challenged, but that of the king. The king is the father of his subjects: regicide is identified with parricide. Cromwell and the Puritans finally committed this parricide. A century afterwards, the members of the Convention did the same thing to the French king. It was the end of the hereditary monarchy and the divine right of kings. In the twentieth century, kings either fall or are relegated to an honorific position, like venerable relics of the past.

The challenge to the patriarchal model does not stop there. After I the revolt against the paternal authority of the Pope, and then of the king, in the nineteenth century there was a revolt among socialist theoreticians against the divine right of the employer and private ownership of the means of production. It was in 1880 that the word `paternalism’ began to be used in a pejorative sense to describe the 1 patriarchal or paternalistic conception of the role of the owner of a business.

the family must a masculine and a feminine pole.

At present, Catholic Action movements  (Young Catholic Farm­ers, Young Catholic Workers, Young Catholic Students) are in a state of crisis. They replaced the individualist morality of the last century with the social morality of the present century. The Young Catholic Farmers played an important role in the birth of a dynamic trade union movement. I think that the present is due to two important facts: the young people cannot escape from the moralizing reductionism of Christianity, and their development has been blocked by the paternalism of the hierarchy.

a phrase taken out of context in the gospels: one must not cause the little ones to stumble. But like the curse against those who cause offence, these words are understood in a contrary sense to that in which they were intended. Jesus was t not afraid of scandalizing the petty folk among his people with their prejudices, and the people of note with their hypocrisy. When he I says that the weak must not be made to stumble, he is saying precisely the opposite of what the hierarchy wants to make him say. He tells the strong not to betray the confidence that the weak put in them. Is it not betraying the confidence of the grass-roots to deceive them, to lie to them, to throw dust in their eyes? Is that not to consider them irresponsible? In reality, an apparent refusal to scandalize the weak conceals a reactionary mentality and scorn for the people. Instead of reassuring and soothing words from bishops, one would prefer to hear the head of the church addressing Christians in these terms: ‘Yes, it’s true, there is a serious crisis. Many priests no longer accept the status people would like them to have. Let us look to see why, and try to find a way of remedying the situation.’

that the desacralization of nature and ; culture are in line with the gospel. The God whom Christianity proclaims is a God who has given over the world to man. Mgr Francois Marty, Archbishop of Paris, stressed this very strongly at a meeting of the Catholic Secretariat for Non-Believers at Vienna in September 1968: ‘A good theology of creation will not be surprised at desacralization, given that the relationship between creature and creator is not sacred in the precise sense of the term. The more man constructs the world, the more God is creator. Secularization is not de-Christianization.’ This development suggested to certain people ‘that for modern man, God is dead. But God is not dead. What has disappeared is just God the magician, God the idol. Christians ought to rejoice at this, since the first communities made their appearance in ancient society as those who rejected idols and the gods of magic.

Professor Ungar has isolated a second peptide from the brain of rats conditioned by a sonic stimulus. When they hear a sudden sound, all the animals quiver; when the stimulus is repeated, the quivering disappears. Rats have been subjected to this sound every five seconds for ten to twelve days. The extract from the brain of these conditioned animals injected into other animals makes them indifferent to sonic signals. So training for several days or weeks is enough to change momentarily the innate behaviour of an animal or its reactions to a given stimulus. This change makes an impression on the brain, leading by chemical modifications to the formation of new substances which, injected into other animals, modify their behaviour. A neurotic education impressed on the brain over two years must produce profound biological modifica­tions in those who have been given it.

men and women spend their whole lives fighting against their cerebral impressions and the indestructible connections in their brains? They ceaselessly relive stereotyped situations which make them feel anxious and guilty. How many men and women are incapable of having a normal sexual life because they are stamped with the fear of sexual sin?

Society in general and the Catholic church in particular are only what people make them. We must make a profound change in our conceptions if we wish by means of a preventive education to struggle effectively against collective neuroses. Modern research into heredity shows us that nature itself gives us the example of a dynamic evolution towards an increasingly perfect adaptation. Thus an organic force drives us to a perpetual progress: there is no incompatibility between a spirituality in which the essence of being finds its justification, its explanation, and its destiny, and a psycho­, sociological evolution where the future and the changing model of the world is structured in influences, convergences and confrontations.

The institutional church defends the patriarchal structure, while it is increasingly losing vitality at the grass roots. The rigid and hypertrophied superego, represented by Roman authority, does not take much account of the desires oft the ego, formed by the mass of Christians. In the face of the rightful claims of this ego, the superego reacts with an apparent benevolence which conceals a profound rigidity.

According to an opinion poll published in La Croix, twenty-one per cent of French people go to mass regularly, whereas ninety-five per 1 cent are baptized. Apparently the number of real faithful is declin­ing, whereas that of the disciples of Jesus is constantly growing. The extraordinary success of the Jesus movement reported from the United States is a remarkable proof of this. Young people are in search of spirituality: more than ever, they are ready to hear the good news announced by Christ. Faced with this reality, the institutional church should no longer neglect essentials at the expense of details. It must realize that the majority of Christian institutions are completely out of touch, even when they have been created recently. The parishes are territorial areas, the product of a rural mediaeval…..

How many priests are anxious, simply because they feel incapable of fulfilling their role as educators, confronted with youth in pos­session of a great deal of information but without the common standards which they had. Their training in ‘ghetto seminaries’ explains the difficulty they find in responding, their anxiety and their guilt feelings: whether it is a matter of political, sexual or educational problems, generally speaking, the catechism which they learnt is quite insufficient. The young people no longer accept education on the basis of ready-made judgments, prohibitions and taboos. They want to understand, to know and to be responsible. Traditional neurotic education needs to be replaced with education in answering the question ‘why’. If one believes in the gospel, I do not see why the hierarchy of the church should not accept this development.

The great majority of middle-aged Christians keep their religious automatism by carefully avoiding putting it in question. To express their aggression, they fight for or against liturgical renewal. They are integralists or anti-integralists. The women teach the catechism without passion; the men are busy with St Vincent de Paul meetings. Sunday masses, the major festivals, and contributing to the collec­ion serve as their fixed points. They wait for directives from the hierarchy before tolerating certain modifications to their routine religion.

Some, usually the younger ones, are involved in politics, under the direction of young priests who produce Marxist slogans. They have the impression of being in the front line, being against fine ceremonies, against the Latin mass and above all against the middle class. In short, what counts is being against everything that exists. Right-wing clericalism has been replaced by left-wing clericalism.

….to deny oneself, to want to save one’s life and have to  lose it in Christ’s cause. Renunciation of self is indispensable for all psychological development; if it does not take place, a person risks remaining at a stage of narcissism, egocentricity,  observance of the law. Is not an obsessive concern to save one’s life the best way of losing it? Is not devoting one’s life to love, communication, exchange, the best way of being happy? For that, is it necessary to be detached from external and temporal things, to exalt the poverty of the spirit, to offer the left cheek to anyone who strikes us on the right?

After a long medical practice I have increasing trust in man and his possibilities of growth. I do not believe that sincerity means ‘`abandoning man’s personal liberty to his animal impulses, to his superior inhibitions, to his ignoble egotism’.

After twenty years in my profession, I have arrived at the conclusion that the happy ones are those who are pleased at themselves and who like their own company. Real happiness comes through love of oneself. The healthy egoist is a happy man who respects the independence of others.

People are such that it is evident that self-love is not as widespread as is commonly claimed. Many people are discontent with them­selves and, perpetually unhappy, let off steam on those around them. Overwhelming them and criticizing everyone and everything, they promenade their peevishness and their aggressive judgment in search of a new foolish victim on whom they can pour scorn.

I have never met anyone who judges himself in a different way t from that in which he judges others. Fundamentally, the person who criticizes his neighbour habitually criticizes himself or herself with just as much vigour. If one cannot accept oneself, one cannot accept others.

Education in self-love begins at birth. It imposes two imperatives on parents.

First, inculcating in the child a love of life, leaving it the possibility of undergoing an apprenticeship in sexual pleasure through the !satisfaction of its drivds. In fact, to use rigorous prohibition to prevent a child from eating sweets, dirtying itself, being cruel or masturbating, contributes to an exaggerated development of the idea of sin and risks inhibiting completely its further psychological and sexual growth.

Second, allowing the child, through the frustrations inherent in any education, to come to sense its own responsibilities. It is wrong Ito think that children must be allowed everything. Prohibition and (the limitation of pleasure are necessary for intellectual investment and social and cultural development. As far as education goes, the child feels prohibitions to be a limitation of its freedom, but also to be a defence against its instincts, in the shelter of which it can better shape itself and develop. However, the child will only accept its first frustrations if it has a- deep sense of its mother’s love.

Our moralizing r action is even more dangerous towards skinheads, punks, mods, teddy boys, indeed any young people who seem to have rejected all constraints and to give free course to their instincts. They seem beyond the reach of all moral rules. It is necessary to discover what really moves them, the real motivations for their criminal and morally reprehensible conduct. In fact they behave in such a way that they give themselves a certain idea and a certain image of themselves. Basically, these are young men and women who have a low opinion of themselves and try to compensate in many ways for their feelings of inferiority and helplessness. By satisfying instincts in a way which is always deceptive, they try to avoid anxiety and rid themselves of their guilt-feelings. The best attitude is to understand them and accept them, to reassure them about their unhappiness, to give them the possibility of expressing themselves and arouse in them the idea of self-respect, telling them that despite everything they have the right and even the duty to love themselves.

For twenty years I have been in permanent contact with Catholic or Protestant Christians, priests, religious, bishops and pastors. One thing has always struck me: despite appearances of stability and (immobility, the church has never ceased to be the scene of an intensive upheaval. There is an ebb and flow; ideas grow, spread and withdraw, even seem to disappear, and then are reborn in a better form some years, or some centuries later.

In recent years, grass-roots commu6ties and charismatic groups have been multiplying all over the world with different nuances, in a way which seems unstoppable. These new structures are devel­oping at the very moment when people are complaining about the crisis in the parishes, the crisis in recruitment to the priesthood, the crisis of faith and secularization.

It is important to make a distinction between grass-roots com­munities, which are usually formed in an atmosphere of conflict with the established church, and charismatic groups, which are founded on a rediscovery of prayer and accept the system of the church as it is. What they have in common is that they have not been imposed from above by the hierarchy. They come from the grass roots, from the people of God, which rediscovers itself among them, because it can express itself there, pray there and live there in a framework of freedom which is a real liberation in comparison with everything which seemed fixed and immobile.

The present-day church must agree to `die to itself’, losing its neurotic structure and its overwhelming superego, if it wants to regain contact with today’s world. The Roman authorities find themselves confronted with the problem of universal suffrage and autonomy. Some years ago a theologian explained to me that the present imbalance in the church in fact derives from the Middle Ages. The very important development of the cult of the dead necessitated the ordination of a large number of `altar’ priests (i.e. priests dedicated to the altar), whose sole function was to say mass. Thus the clergy occupied too important a place at the heart of the church, and gradually the priests took over all social land human activities. It is now to be desired that the number of priests should decrease and that lay people should have greater responsibility in the Christian community (for example, as deacons). Through this spontaneous development among the people of God, the church might perhaps rediscover its equilibrium.

What is certain is that we can allow two key ideas to be put to us. One comes from Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. “Think of the sorry contrast between the burgeoning intelligence of a child and the mental feebleness of the average adult.” The other comes from the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it.” The only way of “decolonizing” the child is perhaps to begin together, adults and children, on the way to discover new territory unknown to us. We can no longer allow ourselves to ignore children’s poetry under the pretext that it is written in bad French or English.’

In fact the great problem is that the church has not really thought about what should be the training, the selection and the involvement of priests in the working world. As always, when there is a problem to be resolved, it creates an institution or a committee or a sub­: committee, and in so doing believes that work can go forward

Jesus put forward subversive views. He transgressed the power of the scribes and Pharisees by denying the basis of their authority. He was at ease with the ne’er-dó-wells, and kept company with people who had a bad reputation, who had no place in a society controlled by the ‘perfect’ and the priestly caste….. Jesus did not follow the way of John the Baptist. He did not retire into the desert to live a life of fasting and asceticism. He stayed among people, making contact with all social classes, both the religious professionals and those of doubtful morality. He did not think it beneath him to join in a wedding or to drink wine. He lived with a freedom which no god-fearing man dared allow. His attitude threatened the social and religious equilibrium of the Judaism of the first century. His authority and his liberty explain conflicts which, provoked by what he said, finally led to his condemnation. His message was that of the anti-neurotic: faced with a rigid society, legalistic and mistrusting, he showed that only communication, love and respect for people, no matter whom, led to God. His message was not that of fear, anxiety or guilt. It was that of a I free man, accepting no compromise and preferring to transgress i rather than to obey a coercive and infantilizing law. It is incompre­hensible that such a message could have given birth to a church with an attitude of perpetual compromise.

People have said that Christianity was a revolution which was never born. The church always has been and remains the institution most capable of thwarting all revolutions. It has been rapidly integrated into patrimonial society, based on the family, property and inheritance. It became a hierarchical institution, with its own structures and its temporal interests to defend. Even worse, how­ever, it completely changed the meaning of its initial message. It established a morality founded not on love but on fear of death and the last judgment. It based its education on the crucifixion and not on the resurrection: Christ was crucified because of his love and his liberal behaviour, all qualities which do not accord well with the needs of a church and an organization. But he was raised and by the same token acknowledged to be Son of God.

Return to the home page

Advertisements

From → Spirituality

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: